tv [untitled] March 11, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm EDT
follow american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3 and online at c-span.org/history. next, from the gerald ford presidential museum, a conversation on president ford's life and legacy. james baker served as president ford's undersecretary of commerce before his later roles serving other republican presidents. this is about an hour. good afternoon and welcome to the ford presidential museum. my name is elaine didier, and it's an honor to serve as director of the museum here in grand rapids and the library in ann arbor. this afternoon is a special program in honor of our 30th
anniversary, and we're delighted to have all of you here. it's a great pleasure for us to have susan ford bales, daughter of president and mrs. ford, with us today. she is a highly articulate spokesperson on issues related to breast cancer and with her mother, betty ford, helped establish october as national breast cancer awareness month. susan has been extremely active with the betty ford center and its programs to address addictions and served as chairman of its board for five years. susan also has a very special role as the official ship sponsor of the "uss gerald r. ford" care year under construction. it will be christened in 2013 and commissioned in 2015. susan is also a trustee of the ford presidential foundation and serves as co-chair of the foundation's program committee. she is an avid supporter of all we do at the library and museum
and played the key role in convincing our speaker to fit this into his schedule today. along with her brother, steve, susan has stepped forward to represent the ford family at many events in grand rapids and across the country, giving very generously of her time and talent. we're very honored to have her with us this afternoon. please join me in welcoming susan ford bales who will introduce our distinguished speaker. [ applause ] >> good afternoon. thank you all for coming today. welcome to the foundation trustees, joe calvarusa, special guests, donna randall, members of the museum staff and volunteers and congratulations on your 30th museum anniversary. uncle dick, i love seeing you, as always. ladies and gentlemen.@ 5jm!
in the twilight of his life, dad often asked to reflect on his legacy and how he thought historians would judge his decades of public service. his consistent response surprised many. certainly dad was proud of how he healed our nation following the greatest constitutional crisis since the civil war. and he was equally proud of the example of bipartisan leadership he set in congress and as president. but part of his legacy about which dad was proudest was the group of men and women that formed the core of his administration who then went on to serve the american people with exceptional and distinguished service. and no one, absolutely no one, better illustrates dad's pride in this remarkable group than our special guest today.
our guest, with his unusual humility, often describes with amazement when dad summoned him into the commerce department to become one of dad's closest advisers. but rest assured, dad knew exactly why this humble texan was so extraordinary. he went on to serve dad with distinction and then as the saying goes, the rest is history. in the years after his service to dad, he served as 61st united states secretary of state, secretary of treasury, white house chief of staff for two presidents, chairman of the iraq study group, personal envoy of the secretary general of the united nations, and proudly one of our fellow trustees of the gerald r. ford presidential foundation. a philosopher once observed, quote, the best impression one gets of a leader and of his character is by looking at those
closest around him. if in the end the legacy and leadership of our guest and his remarkable service to america, then please know that the 38th president of the united states would be bursting with pride today. thus, it is a personal joy and honor to introduce to you a statesman, a world leader, a man of peace, a man of integrity and i'm very proud to say, one of my dad's dear friends. ladies and gentlemen, jim baker. [ applause ] >> thank you, thank you, ladies and gentlemen. and thank you, susan, for a very warm and generous introduction. and thank you as well for all you have done to nurture and
honor the wonderful legacy of both your dad and your mom. dick ford, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, let me say to begin with that it's a great pleasure for me to be back in grand rapids. i've been here a number of times. and i'm delighted to be back, particularly to celebrate this 30th anniversary of the gerald r. ford library and museum because this library and museum also does an extremely wonderful job of maintaining the legacy and not just the legacy but the lessons of a man, a president who was much more than just a man of his times. gerald ford was a great and timeless american who day in and day out demonstrated characteristics that will always serve, i think, as models for our leaders, those leaders of today as well as those leaders of tomorrow. but before i talk about his
legacy, i would first like to state as a matter of personal privilege, if you will, a simple but obvious fact. i wouldn't be standing here today were it not for the faith that president ford showed in me when i was his deputy secretary of commerce because at the time my political and public service resume was extremely thin. but president ford saw something i guess more in me than just a texas lawyer with a modest background in regional politics. following the recommendations of rog morton and dick cheney, stu spencer and bob teeter, president ford selected me to take over for his friend jack stiles after stiles had been killed in an automobile accident. stiles, of course, was president ford's delegate hunter in that very spirited 1976 republican primary against ronald reagan and later, of course, after rog became ill with cancer,
president ford asked me to chair the president ford committee in the general election against jimmy carter. those of you old enough to remember will remember that those races, both of them, were really historic races settled by razor thin margins, both the race for the nomination and the general election contest. and they served as springboards for my career in national politics and public service. and so, my friends, i know you will understand when i say, thank you, mr. president, for the confidence that you showed in me at a critical point in my career. but more importantly, thank you, mr. president, for the confidence that you showed in america and the job that you did for america at a very difficult time in our nation's history. [ applause ]
again, for those of us old enough to remember, jerry ford inherited a deeply troubled country when he placed his hand on that bible on august the 9th, 1974, to take the oath of office. president nixon, of course, had been forced to resign. inflation and recession were presenting the country with what at the time was arguably its worst economic time since the great depression. the cold war was heating up as confidence in uncle sam was trending down. americans at that time were quite jaded toward a political system that many felt had let them down and let them down badly. our national psyche was taking a beating. countless people worried that the american dream was a thing of the past. and into this national morass came a man with a true moral compass.
he exemplified the plain talk of a midwesterner, the resolution of a michigan wolverine offensive lineman, the bravery of a pacific war hero and the intellect of a yale law school graduate. he was all of that, but he was much, much more. he was not the most glib of our national leaders, nor the most elegant. but president ford had something that was much more important. he had character. jerry ford, as the country and the world would soon learn, maintained traits that we associate with the boy scouts. he was trustworthy, he was loyal, he was helpful, he was reverent. of course, this shouldn't have come as a surprise to the american people because, after all, he was the first american president who had actually earned his eagle scout rank.
for president ford, decency and honor were more than merely words that politicians throughout the ages have repeated in their high-minded speeches. for president ford, they were ideals, ideals to be incorporated into the way one lived one's life. and so today i would like to examine with you five of what i believe were president ford's very best traits, traits that contributed to his effective brand of leadership. i think they're instructive to consider at this point in our country's history, ladies and gentlemen, because these very traits are needed today. they're needed in washington where once again, confidence in our country and in our elected officials is waning. and let me start with the leadership trait that i think was jerry ford's most important -- selflessness.
like most politicians, president ford understood that election meant self-preservation. but unlike too many today, he was unwilling to sacrifice his principles in order to satisfy the whims of the electorate. faced with an enormous dilemma about whether or not to pardon president nixon in the aftermath of watergate, president ford did not look to his political advisers for advice. he knew what they would say. he knew they would say pardoning president nixon will kill you at the polls in two years. and it certainly did, just two short years later. instead, he did the very same thing that we tell our children to do when they're confronted with a difficult problem. he looked to his own heart for
guidance, and after he found the answer, he explained it this way to his country. "my conscience tells me it is my duty to not only proclaim domestic tranquility but to use every means that i have to ensure it." that courageous act when the buck truly did stop at his desk, allowed the nation to move forward from a very, very troubling time. and that characteristic of selflessness, i believe, is the reason that president ford was able to heal our injured country, even if it did ultimately cost him his job. a second leadership trait that president ford exhibited was bipartisanship. we hear a lot of talk about that today. a moment ago i told you that president ford was a man of principle. and he was, no doubt about it. he was particularly worried about the influence of an
ever-growing government and what it was having -- the influence it was having on our country. he expressed those thoughts very, very eloquently. he said if the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have. and, of course, in that, he was absolutely right. but president ford was also a creature of the congress, let's not forget, who served for more than eight years as the house minority leader before he became vice president and then president. as well as anyone, president ford understood that our democracy is based upon negotiations, and it's based upon compromise, and it's based upon agreement. truth, he once said, is the glue that holds government together. compromise, he said, is the oil that makes government go.
president ford may have had political adversaries because they come with the turf, but he didn't have any political enemies. he knew how to disagree agreebly. president ford understood that bipartisanship is important, not only for getting things accomplished but for making sure that they don't get undone when there are the inevitable shifts of power in washington, d.c. a third leadership trait of president ford was dignity. president ford was a fair and just human being who seems to intuitively know what the right thing to do was. i will never forget election day 1976. the president had overcome a 30 percentage point deficit in the polls, and for the first time
almost during that campaign a win seemed possible. he had busted his tail in a campaign that was stacked against him from the very day that he took office. on the night. election, that afternoon, 5:30 in the afternoon, i went in with stu spencer and been teether to give him some of the exit polls which weren't that promising, but weren't all that bad at that time, and i thought to myself that i might actually be able to light up the victory cigar that president ford had given me that afternoon. and it wasn't until early the next morning, after 3:00 in the morning, that we learned that jimmy carter had won the closest presidential election since 1916. the election was so close that had fewer than 10,000 votes shifted in ohio and hawaii out of a total of 81 million votes cast in the country, president ford would have won the vote in
the electoral college and thereby won the election. now, despite that razor-thin margin, the president was very stoic in defeat. he had worked very hard, so hard that you'll remember he had lost his voice. very, very hard, and he had come so very, very close. yet he graciously accepted the result. his longtime friend, the former st. louis cardinals catcher joe garagiola said that he had seen former cardinals great enos slaughter get more upset with an up pier saying strike two than gerald ford did when he realized he was not going to win a presidential election. but he refused to ask for a#ndb#
recount, even though many of his supporters had implored him to do so. president ford was a man of honor, and because he had lost the popular vote he did not want to put the country through the agony of a recount. his fourth leadership trait was humor. he had the inner confidence of someone who could laugh at himself. of course, that was important because hollywood was always trying to make him the butt of their jokes. as americans though grew to know him they witnessed a leader whose sharp self-deprecating humor could ease some very serious situations. one of those times came after he accepted the resignation of agriculture secretary earl butts for telling an offensive joke. a little later, after being introduced at an event by bob hope, president ford wisecracked i have only one thing to say
about a program that calls for me to follow bob hope, ridiculous. bob hope has stage presence, comedy timing and the finest writers in the business. i'm standing here in a rented tuxedo with three jokes from earl butts. [ laughter ] ford's brilliance was in showing the country that he was not thin-skinned. after all, who among us after being wrongly cast as a clumsy buffoon in countless chevy chase skits could quip i haven't felt this good since i fell down an airport ramp. [ laughter ] a fifth and final leadership trait is one that he demonstrated side by side with his wonderful first lady betty. that, of course, was his --
their perseverance in the face of adversity. life didn't always go according to storybook plans for jerry and betty ford, particularly when it came to her battles with substance abuse, but rather than do the easy thing and give in to her addictions, betty ford chose the difficult path. she confronted head on those demons that were her problem, and she conquered them, and then she did something even more heroic. she helped others do the same thing. with president ford always supporting her, she was able to turn trials into triumphs. if ever there was an example of how we americans should respond to the inevitable challenges we'll all face at one time or another, the fords were it. ladies and gentlemen, as we reflect upon the legacy of gerald ford, it is extremely
sho shortsighted to simply remember him as the post-watergate president. although he had only 29 months in the white house, he used his time wisely and productively to confront the monumental issues that faced him when he took office. he helped us restore our national senses and our sensibility. he healed our nation. in the aftermath of the vietnam war, president ford continued the country's policy of detent with the soviet union and china and the soviet union. this played a vital war in easing the tensions of the cold war at that time, and he did this at the same time that he was helping restore america's confidence and role in international affairs following the collapse of cambodia and the fall of saigon. he was also able to focus the attention of the world and his country on other important matters. he persuaded israel and egypt to accept an interim truce
agreement, the first ever for the two countries. he was the first president to begin to emphasize the need for regulatory reform and the first president to call for a national energy policy. he was an early supporter of majority rule in south africa, and he was a strong proponent of equal -- equal rights for women. did he accomplish everything that he set out to accomplish? no. but he reversed our course, and he moved the country forward against strong and difficult headwinds. if there is a tragedy in president ford's brief term as president, it is not based on anything that he did while he was in the white house, nor is it based on anything that he didn't do. no. the tragedy of president ford's service is that the american people did not give him a full term in office. had they done so, i am sure that
his already sizable footprint in american history would have been even larger. why do i say that? because at his very core gerald ford was a leader, one who was guided by a clear conscience and by a dogged determination to see his country at its very best. ladies and gentlemen, i sincerely doubt that there's one person in this room today who doesn't wish that more of our elected officials demonstrated president ford's leadership qualities. president ford did what he thought was right. he did what he thought was right, even when he knew it was going to cost him public support. he served our nation when bipartisanship was more than just an empty slogan, and he was a leaning practitioner of it. his perseverance and dignity,
even in the face of the very toughest of challenges, remain examples upon which i think we can all draw and upon which the american people can draw. today, more than 34 years after he left an office that he did not initially seek but graciously accepted, we remember gerald ford as an honest, ethical and talented public servant. we remember him as a leader, a leader with unquestionable character and integrity, but more importantly perhaps, at least i remember him as a truly lovely human being, a truly lovely human being who always put his country's interest ahead of his own, and so as a result i am absolutely convinced that history is going to be very good to president gerald r. ford and
will always reflect upon his tenure with admiration and with respect. our country would be far better off today if our elected officials could call upon those traits that defined president ford's leadership as they confront the difficult challenges that lay ahead of this country. thank you all, may god bless you, and may god bless this country that gerald ford loved so much and served so very, very well. thank you. [ applause ] thank you. thank you. >> thank you very much, mr. secretary.
we have some interesting questions that have come in thus far, and if you have additional ones, feel free to pass them to the side aisles. two of my colleagues are there ready to pick them up. let's start with one first. what role did you play in ford's 1976 presidential campaign? >> well, i was -- i was -- his deputy secretary of commerce had been there about six months when as i mentioned in my remarks his delegate counter was killed in an automobile accident and president ford asked me to come over to the president ford committee and be the dell gant hunter in the nomination which i did. by the way, that was an extraordinarily interesting convention and primary contest because it was the last really contested convention of either major political party. 1976 in kansas city, and i think we only won the nomination by
some 100 delegate votes out of 3,000 or so that were on the floor of the convention. a very narrow win for an incumbent president, but, of course, ronald reagan, governor reagan, been running for president two or three times before. he was an extraordinarily tough competitor and challenger, and we felt fortunate to win the nomination, even though we won it narrowly. then we started -- after the -- after the nomination, president ford asked me to chair his general election campaign against jimmy carter because, as i said, rogers martin, who had been chairman developed cancer. we started out 25, 30 points behind. on election day the two candidates were dead even. we only lost by 10,000 votes out of 81 million votes that were cast, so it -- those close elections are tougher to lose quite frankly sometimes than the blowouts, but that was -- i was chairman of the president ford committee in the general election. >> okay.
the relationship with president nixon, did president ford consult with president nixon on foreign policy, and were they friends? >> i can't answer that because i was -- i was in the campaign and not really in the white house. i was over at commerce for six months, as i said, and i was the acting secretary of commerce, but most of my -- most of my contact with president ford at that time was all on substantive economic issues, and -- and very little to do with foreign policy. in fact, nothing to do with foreign policy and nothing at that time to do with politics. now, i do think that -- that president ford consulted with president nixon from time to time after the pardon and perhaps during the campaign. >> okay. >> what differences did you notice between president ford and president reagan leadership style?
>> now, wait a minute. you know something? i've worked for four presidents, and i have one rule that i never violate. i never -- i never compare presidents because the minute you say something good about one, it's taken to be a knock on the other. [ laughter ] so that's the only question you could ask me that i will not answer. [ applause ] >> okay, folks. we need to change some of the questions that are coming in because there are several along those lines. here's another one related to reagan but a different question. discuss the tension in the white house when -- during the attempted assassination of ronald reagan. >> well, there was quite a bit of tension. we'd only been there at that time. i was, of course, white house chief of staff when president reagan was shot. we'd only been there for two months, i think, or maybe two and a half months. i believe it was the first week in march. we came in in january 20th so it was a very traumatic ti